Russia orders out 60 US diplomats over spy poisoning affair

MOSCOW, March 29 (Reuters) - Russia has ordered 60 U.S. diplomats to leave by April 5, the foreign ministry said on Thursday, in a retaliatory move against Washington which expelled a similar number of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a Russian spy in England.

The foreign ministry said it had declared persona non grata 58 diplomats in Moscow and two general consulate officials in Yekaterinburg in the row over the poisoning of former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal on March 4.

Moments before the ministry announcement, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would respond in kind to the mass expulsion of diplomats by Western governments which include, apart from the United States and Britain, most member states of NATO and the European Union.

"The measures would be reciprocal ... They include expulsion of the equivalent number of diplomats and they include our decision to withdraw our agreement to allow the United States' general consulate to operate in St. Petersburg," Lavrov told a briefing.

The attack on 66-year-old Skripal and his daughter, which Britain has blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin and says was caused by a Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok left on the door of their home in England, has driven relations between Russia and the West to a new post-Cold War low.

RELATED: A look at the case of Sergei Skripal's poisoning

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MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 6, 2018: Pictured in this file image dated August 9, 2006, is retired colonel Sergei Skripal during a hearing at the Moscow District Court. File image/Press Office of Moscow District Military Court/TASS (Photo by TASS\TASS via Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 05: A forensic tent stands over a bench where a man and a women had been found unconcious the previous day, on March 5, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The man is believed to be Sergei Skripal, 66, who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010. The couple remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 6, 2018: Pictured in this file image dated August 9, 2006, is retired colonel Sergei Skripal during a hearing at the Moscow District Court. File image/Press Office of Moscow District Military Court/TASS (Photo by TASS\TASS via Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 05: A forensic tent stands over a bench where a man and a women had been found unconcious the previous day, on March 5, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The man is believed to be Sergei Skripal, 66, who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010. The couple remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 05: A forensic tent stands over a bench where a man and woman had been found unconscious the previous day, on March 5, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The man is believed to be Sergei Skripal, 66, who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010. The couple remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 06: A forensic tent stands over a bench where a man and woman had been found unconscious the previous day, on March 6, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The man is believed to be Sergei Skripal, 66, who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010. The couple remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 06: A general view inside Zizzi Restaurant in town centre, where a man and woman had been found unconscious two days previosly, on March 6, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The man is believed to be Sergei Skripal, 66, who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010. The couple remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 06: Police officers man a cordon near a forensic tent (not pictured) where a man and woman had been found unconscious two days previosly, on March 6, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The man is believed to be Sergei Skripal, 66, who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010. The couple remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 06: A man walks past Zizzi Restaurant in town centre, where a man and woman had been found unconscious two days previosly, on March 6, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The man is believed to be Sergei Skripal, 66, who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010. The couple remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 06: A journalist shows CCTV footage on a mobile phone showing a man and woman who were later found unconscious, on March 6, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The man is believed to be Sergei Skripal, 66, who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010. The couple remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 06: Police officers stand outside the home of Sergei Skripal after a man and woman were found unconscious in Salisbury town centre two days previously, on March 6, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The man is believed to be Sergei Skripal, 66, who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010. The couple remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
A police officer stands on duty after former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and a woman were found unconscious on a bench nearby after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Police officers stand at crime scene tape, as a tent covers a park bench on which former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and a woman were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
A police car is parked next to crime scene tape, as a tent covers a park bench on which former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and a woman were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 06: A police officer stands outside The Mill pub after a man and woman had been found unconscious nearby two days previously, on March 6, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The man is believed to be Sergei Skripal, 66, who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010. The couple remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Police officers stand next to a squad car next to crime scene tape, as a tent covers a park bench on which former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and a woman were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Police officers stand at crime scene tape, as a tent covers a park bench on which former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and a woman were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
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Russia has denied involvement in the attack on the Skripals and says it suspects the British secret services are trying to frame Russia to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.

Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence who betrayed Russian agents to Britain and then was exchanged in a spy swap deal, is still in a critical condition from the attack.

His 33-year-old daughter was also in a critical condition though the English hospital where she was being treated said on Thursday that her condition had improved. (Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin Writing by Richard Balmforth)

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